Wilmette residents offered mostly positive feedback during the first platform tennis public hearing Monday.
The sport, a downsized fusion of tennis and racket ball, is played on a heated raised platform, making the sport accessible year-round.
Wilmette Park District is proposing to build four paddle tennis courts at the south end of West Park, 3555 Lake Ave. The preliminary estimated cost of the project is $1.2 million but could change, commissioners said.
“We are looking at doing this because Winnetka’s (paddle facility) is at capacity,” said James Brault, president of Wilmette Park District, during the meeting.
Supporters of platform tennis, also known as paddle, agree, and say the sport is growing in popularity.
“Chicago is really a Mecca for platform tennis,” said Jeff Martin of Park Avenue, who has played the sport for 31 years. “Paddle tennis is growing growing growing.”
Martin says he teaches paddle to students at Highcrest Middle School and would be able to bring 25 people to the new courts from his neighborhood alone.
Residents who spoke against the proposal say they are mostly concerned about the cost and would prefer if a private company ran the facility.
“Often government can’t run as well as a privatized company and I like idea of Winnetka running their paddle privatized,” said Mark Weyermuller of Lawndale Avenue, who says even though he likes the game, “the cost is going to be too high.”
Wilmette Park District officials said if the proposal were approved, it would be funded by the district’s cash reserves.
“Our expectation is that we would not raise taxes at all and there will not be a bond issuance for this,” said James Brault, president of Wilmette Park District, during the meeting.
Karl Sheffer of Fourth Street said he was concerned about taxes and attended the meeting feeling neutral about the plan but now thinks the proposal is better idea than he anticipated.
“I have to say, you’ve kind of won me over tonight,” Sheffer said.
Suzy Strauss of Maple Avenue told commissioners she was still skeptical of how the park district would finance the proposed project.
The project was recommended at the committee level but still needs to go before the Park District Board for a vote. Wilmette Park District will be hosting the second public hearing on June 25, 7 p.m. at Wilmette Village Hall, 1200 Wilmette Ave.
Concerns About Proximity to Winnetka’s Paddle Court
Some attendees were worried the proximity of the proposed paddle courts in Wilmette with Winnetka’s would make it hard to attract players.
“We think there are likely 240 potential players that would come out and support it so one of the reasons we are pursuing it is because we think it would be a self sustaining endeavor,” Brault said.
Commissioners also said there is potential to grow the sport to attract new players, rather trying to just attract the some 160 Wilmette residents who currently play at Winnetka’s facility.
“The private clubs have a tremendous amount of kids playing, from preschoolers on up, what I see as part of the problem is that we don’t have it here in Wilmette,” said Park Board Commissioner Shelley S. Shelly.
Annual membership fee is also projected to be lower than Winnetka’s, at $400 for Wilmette residents and $500 for non-residents, Brault said.
Residents’ Suggestions for the Proposal
Many of the attendees, who are also paddle players, recommended the plan to leave room for potential expansion and have enough parking. Brault says the plan expects to have 75 parking spaces.
Commissioners were also recommended to place emphasis on the paddle hut, where spectators gather to view the sport.
“Don’t skimp on the hut,” said Aaron Shepard of Elmwood Avenue. “The paddle hut, while it may be expensive and might be half of the cost of doing this, is very important.”
Several residents said it was important to have good sightlines of the courts from inside the hut and to allow alcohol.
Paddle is a sport where players often enjoy a beer or two, according to several attendees. The park district is still discussing how it would manage alcohol if the proposed plan were approved. Among the ideas discussed were allowing people to bring their own alcohol and offering a cash bar.
Greg Hudson of Schiller Avenue says the hut will be critical to get Winnetka players to come to Wilmette.
“The courts are all the same, obviously, this is a facility where the people want to be proud of the hut,” Hudson said. “You want to generate revenue from the hut because people want to go there to have parties.”